On Monday mornings, the Planet Nutshell team sits down for a weekly meeting to go over the week’s tasks and tell scintillating stories about weekend adventures. During a recent one, the conversation turned to Planet Nutshell’s successes, which led me to proclaim, “How the heck did I do this?!”
How indeed? There are many reasons I think Planet Nutshell has stuck around and made a name for itself, but here are a few of the most important ones:
Do What You’re Good At
Here are a few things I’m pretty good at: coming up with ideas, storytelling, writing, communication, leadership, interpersonal relationships, emotional intelligence, organization, eating, and riding bikes.
Here are a few (relevant) things I’m pretty bad at: accounting, bookkeeping, design, illustration, animation, and math.
When I first started, I tried to do all of these things — and do them all at once — and it wasn’t sustainable. Eventually, I got to the point where I could (and needed to) hire people who were great at the things I’m really not-great at. And as time has gone on, I’ve evolved even further. I now also have the pleasure of working with people who are even better than me at the things I’m good at.
My advice: focus on what you’re naturally good at, outsource and hire for the rest. Look for ways to build a community of people who can help you build that whole that’s greater than the sum of its parts. Be honest with yourself and others about your strengths and weaknesses, and reward and celebrate the strengths of others. Which brings me to my next point…
Choosing the right people to work with has been the toughest challenge of all, and a lot of what I’ve learned has come through trial and error. There are so many talented people in the world of illustration, animation, and media production, but only a small subset of them share our values and want to be a part of something bigger.
When I hire someone, technical and artistic talent (which can be nourished and honed), are secondary to the skills and talents that are rarer and more precious, like emotional intelligence, humility, interpersonal acumen, self-reflectivity, and a willingness to grow.
Stand for Something
The industry we operate in is extremely competitive. Lots of people do what we do, but no one else does it the way we do. I learned a long time ago that if you simply follow the trends, take whatever work comes in the door, and compete on price alone, trying to be all things to all people, you’re playing someone else’s game on a competitive landscape that’s overcrowded with indistinct choices.
I chose a different path. I chose to become a small media producer whose work is an extension of our humanity. Above all else, we want to have a positive impact on our viewer’s lives. That might mean we make less money than a traditional ad agency. It might mean we don’t have a fancy office. But it also means that we are true to who we are as artists and as people. Some might call this process of individuation “building a brand.” For me, the notion of a brand — the word “brand” itself — is an attempt to co-opt a set of values that are outside the commercial sphere.
My dream is that work remains a human endeavor, not a purely commercial one. And after 12 long-yet-brief, wonderful years, that dream is still alive and kicking.